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Some Prosper From Employee Retraining Programs, Others Still Hoping

January 13, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ John Singer went from sewing gas-mask hoods to cooking boeuf bourguignon. Judith Stahl exchanged a sweaty job molding sunglass lenses for a secretary’s office. Joan McGrory is still looking for work.

All three, laid off when their employers closed shop, went through retraining programs. A U.S. Labor Department task force recommended Monday that the federal government spend $980 million a year on such programs.

Up to 700,000 workers laid off nationwide because of imports, plant closings and new technology would be retrained each year under the proposed Worker Adjustment Assistance Program, which President Reagan has endorsed.

″Jobs are scarce, and if it wasn’t for the training programs I wouldn’t have the job I have,″ said Singer, 28, a cook at the Freight Yard Pub at North Adams Heritage State Park in North Adams.

He spent two years operating sewing machines at X-Tyal International Corp., a gas-mask manufacturer that suddenly went into bankruptcy in June 1985. Employees showed up for work one day to find a padlocked gate.

He signed up with the Worker Assistance Center in North Adams, which is funded federally through the quasi-public Industrial Services Program, said program spokesman Scott Simmons.

After a brief stint being trained to manage a taxi and rental-car company, Singer was hired by the restaurant, where he has been in training about five months. He is making about double what he was paid at his sewing job and received a high school equivalency diploma during the training program.

″Things are going well right now,″ Singer said Monday. ″I’m learning my way around the kitchen. ...In a way it was a good thing (X-Tyal) closed down.″

Ms. Stahl feels the same way about the closing of the Foster Grant Co. plant in Leominster, where she had worked for about 10 months before being laid off last February.

After government-sponsored retraining, she went from repetitious work molding and packaging sunglass lenses to ″a definitely more interesting job″ as a secretary-clerk.

The 29-year-old high school graduate went through an eight-month training program in word processing, computers and other office skills, and started her job at New England Firearms Inc. last week.

″I don’t know what I’d be doing if not for the training,″ she said. ″I definitely needed to get some kind of skill.″

But not all retraining ends with a success story.

Ms. McGrory, 55, was laid off from a North Adams travel agency when Sprague Electric Co., one of its largest clients, moved its headquarters in 1984.

A college graduate, Ms. McGrory has been through three state-funded retraining programs. None of the courses - medical terminology, typewriting and word processing, and business English - led to a job.

″The fact is, there’s been such a loss of manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts that it’s very discouraging to go through any kind of training without a job in the near distant future,″ she said while on a break from studying accounting for her latest retraining course.

At a meeting of displaced workers last week, Ms. McGrory said she momentarily lost patience with the state’s efforts to help laid-off workers. She recalls saying at the meeting: ″All this saying, ‘We’re going to retrain you, retrain you, retrain you.’ I say baloney, I don’t want retraining. I want a job.″

She now regrets the outburst.

″Sometimes I feel selfish because I’ve had lots of opportunities and a lot of assistance,″ she said. ″Retraining people is quite an investment in money and time, and I don’t want to be a poor investment.″

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